Julie McMahon, Tony Jones, and Submergent: My Update

"Hear. See. Speak." cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
“Hear. See. Speak.” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“We will hear nothing negative about us. We will be blind to our own faults. And we certainly won’t let you say anything critical of us.”

Recently I have received messages from people asking me for an update on what’s happening with the Tony Jones and Julie McMahon situation, as well as with the Emergent, Convergent, and what I would like to call Submergent movement. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, so I would like to give my most recent overview and assessment.

I call it Submergent because I believe there is a campaign to submerge truth and keep it below the visibility of the public.

For those who don’t know or need a refresher, it all started with my innocent blog post back in September of 2014, Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What Came First the Thug or the Theology. Tony’s response to my critique of his post motivated his ex-wife, Julie, to comment. Then, over the next few months, Julie was able to finally find a place to tell her story uncensored and uncensured.

The barrage of phone calls, emails, and other kinds of messages I received on the heels of that was intense. The concern, frustration, and anger of those contacting me was overwhelming. The pressure for me to take down the post or at least edit out comments was almost unbearable. The attempts to silence me was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I was told to lawyer up. I was threatened. They attempted to shame me. I was called all kinds of names and accused of all kinds of things. I might have caved a little. In fact, I still wonder if I did the right thing closing comments after Christmas to preserve the event. But, since then, others have taken up the story and provided even more venues for victims and survivors to share their experiences. All you have to do is google it and you will find plenty to read. So, even though this whole thing started by not taking down the post and comments, it continued when other people took up the cause, not just for an abused and silenced woman, but for all victims of abuse everywhere.

Essentially, the cat is now out of the bag, and there is no way to get it back in. I was encouraged that perhaps Julie’s story was not only being heard and believed, but that Julie might get some validation and even justice, and that the Christian culture would see through our hero worship and realize that there are serious problems with Christian leadership today, especially concerning the abuse of power.

Then, just as suddenly as all this hit the fan, the plug was pulled. Dead silence. Oh, Julie continues to be personally litigated to death by Tony. But my hope that this would help us be more honest, humble, and helpful for victims and survivors of abuse was beginning to fade.

The typical tactics any regime would use to keep going unchecked were put in play. They did this in three ways:

They silenced dissent.

They did this by no longer engaging with dissenting voices. Yes, all of a sudden there was no engagement with me or any others like me asking questions about what happened. Again, it’s not about the divorce. It’s about the coverup of all that happened around it. You can silence people with intimidation. But when that didn’t work, they decided, I’m sure of it, to employ the strategy of just ignore it and it will go away. You can silence your critic by shutting him up or plugging your ears. So, not only did I stop receiving phone calls and messages from the major players… including friends and those who used to endorse my work… I was now being unfriended, unfollowed, and blocked by many of them. The result is that we critics feel like we’ve been isolated and alienated from the main conversation. Many of us feel banished to the wilderness where our voices are no longer heard. We keep writing about the issue, but we really do wonder sometimes if our words are going anywhere and will bear fruit.

They control the narrative.

As a result of not publicly engaging with their critics, they control the narrative. They are the ones with the biggest platforms, with books, speaking gigs, and huge social media sites, to tell their stories. The interesting thing is that they aren’t even referring to this issue anymore. They continue on as if nothing at all happened. So, for those who haven’t read the backstory, it really does seem as if nothing at all happened. I used to think this was big news and that it would catch fire and consume the interest of everyone and issue in the necessary change to power. No, it has not. It has been contained. They do this by deleting dissenting comments, reporting parody twitter accounts and Facebook pages and having them removed, and by taking down whole posts that express any other narrative than the one they want believed. People who read them would naively be lead to believe that all is well in the land. But it is not. Many might believe there is peace, when it is only fragile and fraudulent. They are controlling the narrative and promoting their own version of events. They promote themselves as champions of some of the abused, when in fact they censor the humble, raw, and real stories of other abused people that might compromise their careers. We keep trying to publish the minority report, but sometimes, to be honest, we lose hope.

They protect each other.

They are protecting each other’s reputations and revenues. They continue with their books, events, and speaking gigs, which apparently is quite lucrative. Hey! I understand. I left the ministry in 2010. I also left my income. I have no retirement plan. As I get older, this becomes more of a concern. Honestly, I really do hope my next book is a best seller. It would help. So, I totally get why people would want to protect their reputations and revenue. They may feel their life depends on it. I get it! So, they continue to give each other glowing reviews and glorify each other in public, giving everyone who isn’t aware of what’s going on the impression that they are raising the bar of excellence and blazing a new trail for the improvement of Christian theology and community. I’m not so sure this is happening. It seems to me that they’ve isolated themselves in a bubble of self-congratulatory ambition, untouched by the real and raw questions and concerns that are raised around them. If it was strictly business, I would understand. But I thought we were in this for the betterment of us all, especially the downtrodden.

So, that’s my assessment right now. We’ve been silenced. They control the narrative. They protect each other.

I watched the remarkable documentary Virunga yesterday. It’s the story of Virunga Park in the Congo. The Congo has been exploited for its natural resources for centuries. The exploiters create internal unrest because this paves the way for them to drive up the middle of the conflict and steal whatever they want from the land. SOCO, the British oil company, simply does whatever it wants. It comes down to money. They pay people off, bribe politicians, rebels, and whoever else can get them closer to their goal. People die. They don’t care about anything but making more money. When they are secretly taped or videoed, they say they fired that person, or that person doesn’t work for them, or that it didn’t happen. They issue public statements asserting the opposite of the accusations, trusting, usually correctly, that our reaction will be, “Well, they’re a public company. They wouldn’t lie. Hm. Maybe there are two sides to this story!”

I realized while I was watching this that this dynamic is at play in all spheres of human life, including the spiritual. An influential Christian writer or speaker can just say, “That isn’t true. This is what really happened.” And many people will think, “Well, he’s a public figure. He wouldn’t lie. Hm. Maybe there are two sides to this story!”

No, people aren’t being killed. But they are being disappeared in other ways. People are being silenced. People continue to get abused, silenced, and shamed, all for what? Someone told me recently to follow the money. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s true.

My hope is that my small voice, as well as the small voices of others, will eventually be heard and open the ears of more people to the abuse of power prevalent in Christian culture today.

If you know what I’m talking about, please join us all at The Lasting Supper!

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29 Replies to “Julie McMahon, Tony Jones, and Submergent: My Update”

  1. David, I hear what you’re saying and I understand why you’re wording this blog post in this manner. But allow me to disagree..slightly..with just a different perspective.

    You said they aren’t allowing people like us to join their table to have conversation. I can see why this seems true for many. But let me explain something about people like that. They aren’t hosting the conversation. YOU ARE. They have silenced the conversation at their table. So there’s no point in joining a conversation that doesn’t exist over there. You’re hosting, it’s your table, keep the conversation going. This isn’t just about Tony and the submergent (I like that term). It’s about a much bigger conversation about the cover up tactics that all abusers use. We can draw on several examples over the centuries, just read the court transcript of Anne Hutchinson during early America. Jesus wasn’t about covering up abuse. He exposed it! He covered wounds, he healed them, he showed compassion and called out the self righteous and serpent tongues of religious leaders.

    About the narrative.. they aren’t truly controlling the narrative. Where there’s no voice, there’s no narrative. They aren’t really controlling it, they just aren’t hosting it at all. But you are. The ones who do the talking are speaking the narrative. Keep speaking.

    While Julie might be controlled by legal bullying (sad thing huh?), they can’t silence everyone. The fact that they try to silence people is a tell tale sign of manipulation and Jesus was not into manipulation.

    I, for one, have no interest in joining their table. I don’t want to even try to approach a table that pays no attention to the wounded. I don’t want to be rubbing elbows with so called leaders who silence the stories of the abused. They like to sit at their lofty tables and rub elbows with one another and count their profits. That’s not the way of Jesus. They aren’t being leaders. A true leader does’t silence the story of Christ’s redemptive power in the lives of victims. They shine a light on His Story and how it plays out in our lives.

    So while I disagree slightly (sort of), I’m actually agreeing with you 100%.

  2. David,

    You speak with integrity. You have acted with utmost respect and consideration. You’re the one of the few trailblazers. Perhaps for the moment, the narrative is going exactly where it needs to go… to the wounded and the healers and the wounded healers.

    Perhaps for the moment, it is less about educating those who aren’t interesting in listening. It’s more about strengthening and inspiring those that are seeking their opportunity to rise up.

  3. It’s so disappointing when people who portray themselves as advocates for the abused really understand zilch about abuse dynamics.

    If every word that came out of Julie’s mouth has been a lie (IT’S NOT! There is tons of evidence, particularly at RL Stollar’s site, and even if there was none, victims deserve to be listened to and not silenced!), the silencing, the denial, the hypocrisy in how this situation has been dealt with compared to how other abusers were talked about publicly on the platforms of people now saying, “Let the courts handles it,” is deafening. It’s maddening. It’s heartbreaking.

    I love so much of Rachel Held Evans, Brian McLaren, and Nadia Bolz-Weber’s work. They have incredible insights on a number of issues. Which is why it’s even more devastating to realize that while they give the issue of abuse in the church lip service, THEY. DON’T. GET. IT. And it seems like no amount of pleading, “Hey, what you’re doing really hurts and triggers other abuse victims,” is going to get through.

    Rachel likes to talk about what happened with World Vision last year as a day that many in the evangelical community decided they were done with evangelicalism.

    The day she continued to contradict her every previous statement about the right to publicly comment on abuse allegations was the day I was done with “progressives.”

  4. Great insights! And I agree with Lisa!

    May I add that the Pharisees controlled the narrative at the time of Jesus, and the Romans controlled the pitch, tone, and pacing of the ‘official press’.

    But Jesus created a platform, and in Matthew Chapter 23, we still read His observations to this day.

    Ever read a good book by or about the ‘leader of the Pharisees’ [Luke 14:1]? No?

    Ever read a good book by Pilate the Governor [Matt 27]? Nope, me neither.

    The books of the submergent will simply pass away. But the dialog that you and others are creating will probably continue to be read.

    I cannot imagine that any Christian University would endorse their books or their life-style of silencing and avoidance (‘the priest and Levite walked on the other side…’).

    However, I believe that those Universities will be focusing on you and the other ‘Samaritans’ that offered voice to both sides.

    You and the other Samaritans will be read and studied, because you showed the Second Commandment in action.

  5. I agree with the previous comments, particularly the one about you creating another table and conversation. I’m a British nobody from across the pond in this situation, but I did read RHE, really rated NBW when I heard her at Greenbelt a few years back, read Tony Jones and Brian McClaren on Emergent and post modern Christianity. However, since being a silent reader of all this stuff I’m very sceptical about all of that. Not only that but I’m particularly disappointed by Rachel and Nadia and wouldn’t commend them to others as being reliable commentators any more. I’ve also talked about it all with friends and we’ve talked about what we, as church leaders, as women, and as Christians can learn from it about the way we deal with dissent and the stories of the abused.

    It’s not world changing, but it demonstrates that the narrative is now not controlled by those who thought they were controlling it, and that we ordinary folks do think for ourselves about what we’re told, as well as about the integrity of those who told us. It also demonstrates that this story is reaching a world-wide audience, to whom it matters a great deal.

  6. The best they have is people coming here distorting what David Hayward is saying. People, such as Randy Buist, etc. that have even stalked those that had something to say about the issue.

    It’s really crazy that ToJo’s public defenders are all authors. I wonder what’s it about being a writer that causes them to feel they need to defend a proven bad actor.

  7. David, the genie is out of the box, with evidence! It can NEVER be put back in the box. For the rest of his days, with increasing volume, the story of Tony Jones, the abuser, will follow him. His infamy will increase and increase. RHEs’, NBWs’ & JVs influence will decrease. It will take time. Just a cloud the size of a mans’ hand. Then faster & faster until it becomes a downpour. Then ‘suddenly’ at the end. Their behaviour will ruin them in the end. Might take years . . . but its inevitable, if they keep to their current path.

  8. This story has been an important one for me as I came to understand what narcissism was and now recognize it in some of the people of my past. One aspect I’ve learned is that some people are absolutely terrific at convincing people they are not what they say they are. I was duped by someone with a different kind of personality disorder for years. He was very skilled at telling me what I would want to hear, to tap in to my personal motivations and give me a reason to want to believe in him.

    In situations like these people have a hard time considering any evidence that someone they believed in is not who they say they are. It would mean honestly considering that they had been duped too. There are others who may have seen the signs but weren’t brave enough to act and feel ashamed about it.

    What happened on this blog helped me. It helped me understand abuse better. It helped me understand the nature of certain types of abusers. It showed me that some people are willing to stand up and sacrifice for vulnerable people.

  9. Well . . . these people probably are telling themselves that they did everything they could, and that they were as kind as they knew how to be, and that for them all this mess needs to be over. The problem they have is that what gets submerged generally comes to the surface again.

    I honestly don’t care a straw hat about their theology or their blogs or their books. Go on and write, preach, speak, do interpretive dance, whatever. The population of “dones” is growing by the day, because it’s increasingly obvious that religious leader is an oxymoron. People are simply catching on to the obvious: we don’t need buildings, preachers, or theological treatises to live our lives with passion and hope and clarity and love. And situations like this one are just more evidence that it’s okay. The Submergents with their public cruelty and indifference have hastened the moment when they become completely irrelevant.

  10. David Hayward: I watched that doc when I was sick recently and on a Netflix marathon. I love and want to be around only brave people who find the courage to stand up against the big voices and say, “No, it’s wrong.” I would say in an English accent, “For Narnia!” or in a raspy Katniss, “I’ll pay tribute!” but here I will just say, “for Virunga.” http://www.netflix.com/WiMovie/80009431 well worth the watch.

  11. To paraphrase a tagline from a certain Australian mega-church conference: “Keep speaking – we’re listening!” And being encouraged to add our voices, as well! 😉

  12. Narrative can be controlled and managed for years. Sometimes that control breaks down or the abuser self-destructs. Sometimes the narrative persists, even past their death. (Though if the things TJ has already done weren’t enough to break down that narrative it’s hard to imagine what would be.) The Internet helps some by providing an avenue by those who were previously voiceless can be heard. But the Internet alone is large and ripples tend to be swallowed. In this instance, given what’s already been published and the relatively minor impact it’s had, I’m not sure what will break the logjam. It may require nothing less than one of those in the circle of narrative control breaking ranks with the rest and denouncing Jones. I have no way to assess the likelihood of that happening.

  13. I have been following this as an outside observer, because I have only heard of these authors on occasion. I belong to a church that has a pastor who TEACHES, but in no way takes any leadership role. Someone in my circle will occasionally read a book by one of these authors, and I have long valued Rachel Held Evans’ view of things. That, of course, is over. Her view of THIS issue is inexcusable, in my opinion, and will always color all the rest.

    As all this evolved, I found that I could perfectly understand the original reactions of Tony’s friends to Julie’s accusations. After all, they had only seen his public face, they’d been told over and over that she was crazy, so it made sense that they’d defend him when all they had was “he said, she said” evidence. What followed, however, made my jaw drop, both in surprise and in dismay. As the actual, documented facts came to light, I expected sorrow and heartbreak from those friends as they sadly disassociated themselves from Tony, asking him to repent and try for restitution with Julie. Instead, I saw that those friends JOINED Tony in lies and cover-up, and my respect for them died with an almost audible bang. As someone else already said, even if every word of Julie’s accusations were false (as they most emphatically are NOT), the subsequent behavior of Tony et al is so ugly and wrong on every level, that it alone shows all those people to be just too horrible to have anything to do with ever again.

    I echo what others have already posted, David: Tony and his friends may enjoy their table conversation in peace. Let them control their own discussion at their own table, but you are host at the table of honesty and openness, and a larger (and inevitably louder) crowd will gather at YOUR table. If scraps of our conversation happen to drift to their table, well, that happens when crowds gather. I’m not sure how to go about this, but perhaps a conversation about all the nuisance lawsuits Tony is filing against Julie might work its way to the crowd deciding which table to join, by way of broadcasting every lawsuit he files. No stranger to the issue will notice the first few, but the constant stream will cause those wavering to take a closer look, and they will hear Julie’s story, and the story of Tony’s malice and of the efforts to hide both by Tony’s friends. “The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small,” and “constant dripping wears away stone” are the phrases that keep playing in my head. We don’t have to raise our voices, merely to keep a steady conversation going with all sorts of relevant information. Remember, too, that God is most certainly on the side of the abused, and what He wishes to make known will be made known, the desperate shushing from certain tables notwithstanding.

    Silence ME???? Ask anyone who knows me whether that’s possible, and be prepared to wait as they catch their breath after long helpless laughter. THAT would truly be a miracle.

    The documented facts have been presented

  14. Thing is most people who gain some fame/following doing ministry usually find some big announcement or gimmick to change the subject. And it often works. Change the conversation.

    One thing I saw a lot and with this situation is people who are enamored with the celeb say that it is only that one thing so they are not going to let that this “one thing” become a problem for them. (Nevermind that “one thing” is more than a red flag). The truth is they like their politics or doctrine more than they care about truth or justice. This happens on both sides of the aisle.

    I will say this coming from the evangelical seeker world, the emergent followers certainly spoke up loudly compared to most evangelicals followers ever will when something like this becomes public. I was quite proud of them. So many expected authenticity and when it was not real, they spoke up and loudly.
    And unless you are in the inner ring you really don’t know to what extent this has effected their business. The name of the game is image so you can bet they won’t be forthcoming about lowered ticket sales, etc. But do expect to see more gimmicks to get the convo changed and enhance image.

  15. I just visited Tony Jones Wikipedia page, may be its time someone updated that with all the released information? Just sayin.

  16. @Van,
    That’s a great idea! Can you look in to how we would add information to Tony Jones’ Wikipedia page about this case?
    Please post action item steps here, if you would be so kind.

    I am currently working on getting Tony Jones marked as a Vexatious Litigant in Minnesota.

  17. @Lydia

    I’ve been anticipating some glossy new photo ops and a brand new formula for godliness. It’ll be like shiny, jangling keys.

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